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The Concept and Perception of Peace Education in Gilgit Baltistan Pakistan: A Comparative Case Study
Abida Begum

In the geographically remote culture and context of Gilgit Baltistan Pakistan, this study explores the perceptions and practices of peace education by two secondary school head teachers (one in a relatively urban area and another in a rural area), as well as three additional teachers from each school. A qualitative, interview-based research approach is employed. The concept of peace education is related by the interviewed teachers to the inculcation and development of positive thinking and positive attitude among students. This positivity is seen as instrumental for the holistic development of the children, and ultimately, for the cultivation of a peaceful society.



Introduction

Pakistan is currently a prime example of a country that lacks peace; its culture is fragmented by differences of class, economics, politics, ideologies, religion, language, territory, caste, and color. The younger generation, particularly the school-going children, are influenced by this kind of turbulence. They experience this culture through their families, schooling education, and the societal channels of communication, such as the mass media, and other cultural agencies and products (Bar-Tal & Rosen, 2009). Williams (2004) states that violence affects schools at multiple levels by attacking individuals, communities, and systems, and “weakening their sense of agency” (p. 471). Murithi (2009) maintains that:

The type of world that we as human beings create in the future will depend on our ability to reject violent and militaristic approaches to solving problems. Peace education should therefore be a central pillar to improving human relations in the family, in schools, at the workplace, within countries and across borders. (p. 223).

Arguably, in order to improve the future human relations in all walks of life, the young generation has to play a pivotal role. This is the generation which has to lead in the future and can be expected to cultivate a peaceful world environment. Hence, the kind of knowledge and experience received by this generation at their schooling age today will exert a huge influence on the visualization of a peaceful world society in the future. Dewey (1900) is of the opinion that:

When the school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a little community, saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with the instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guaranty of a larger society which is worthy, lovely, and harmonious. (P. 29).

As an integrated human society, we need to acknowledge our differences but to look past them and find common ground with the entire world’s people. In this critical situation, it should be our paramount priority to understand how to minimize, prevent, or eliminate violence. Furthermore, if we wish to concentrate on peace, we must learn how to suspend ourselves in the present and focus on the future we ultimately wish to work on together. The current consensus among peace theorists is that peace is not a state of being to be found somewhere in the future or at any time, but a reference to processes and qualities regarding our relationships with self and others, manifesting themselves in perception, reaction, affection, and action.

Therefore, the importance of peace education at the school level is unequivocal for the cultivation of a safe and prospering future for the world. Peace education in classrooms aims at equipping students with necessary knowledge and attitudes through respectful, tolerant, participatory, and cooperative techniques and methods (Deveci, Yilmaz, Kardag, 2008). Through peace education, students are encouraged to shoulder their own responsibilities. So, peace education should be regarded as an opportunity to improve the social well-being and responsibilities of both teachers and students. It starts with an honest willingness to engage teachers and educators in the learning process, which is an essential and powerful way to transform their selves individually and collectively. It fosters real self-learning and breaks up cultural generalizations (stereotypes) that fossilize our own perspectives, beliefs, and assumptions (Morton, 2007).

“Peace education” has recently gained attention all around the world (Yilmaz, 2003). As technological developments have squeezed our world into an interdependent global village where each part is in a position to influence the others in a blink of the eye, peace education studies and initiatives at the school level are increasingly relevant and necessary. In economically developed societies, school leadership is increasingly involved in the initiation of policies and structures for peace education in their schools. Comparably, in developing societies like Pakistan, peace education at the school level seems crucial under the prevailing socio-political circumstances but so far, less effort has been made at the school level.

Gilgit Baltistan of Pakistan, which is the research area of this study, is situated in the middle of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges of Karakoram, Himalaya, and Hindukush. The majority of the local population resides in the scattered villages alongside the various glacier waters and pasture lands. Elaborating on the peculiar socio-cultural environment of this region, Baig & Shafa (2011) explain that:

In the overall societal culture a high premium is placed on ethical and moral values firmly grounded in religion, kinship, clans and linguistic identities. Mass education, only came within reach of the contemporary generation for this multi dialectic, and multi-cultural mountain community (p.1).

Though mass education came to the region very late, it has flourished at a considerable pace. Efforts of school improvement and enhancement of quality in education are being introduced and practiced. Research works in the field of education development in general (for example, Baig, 2010; Baig & Shafa, 2011) have also started addressing peace education, although it is a comparatively new initiative in the region.

In this geographically remote culture and context of Gilgit Baltistan Pakistan, this study sought to explore the perceptions and leadership practices of peace education through in-depth interviews with two secondary school head teachers. In addition, this study explored certain guiding principles and good practices of peace education which may serve as a starting point for further studies and practical steps for peace education in the region. Therefore, this research entered the field with the major goal of determining how head teachers and teachers perceive “Peace Education” as part of the teaching and learning process of the school and what practical steps they exercise to foster peace education in the school. Related questions of this study focused on understanding how these head teachers perceive and define peace education, what policies and practices they have initiated to foster peace education in the school and what (if any) structures have been developed in their schools for the facilitation of peace education.

Literature Review

Definitions of Peace Education

The Peace Education Working Group at UNICEF provides a concise and comprehensive definition of peace education as the process of promoting the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values needed to bring about behavior changes that will enable children, youth, and adults to prevent conflict and violence, both overt and structural; to resolve conflict peacefully; and to create the conditions conducive to peace, whether at an intrapersonal, interpersonal, intergroup, national, or international level (UNESCO, 2002).

Precursors to this include Hicks’ (1985) definition of peace education as activities that develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to explore concepts of peace, enquire into the obstacles to peace both in individuals and societies, to resolve conflicts in a just and non-violent way, and to study ways of constructing just and sustainable alternative futures. Others have suggested that the focus of peace education is (or should be) to develop an appreciation for the global connection of all humanity and our interdependence on the finite natural resources of the earth (Baker, Martin and Pence, 2008). Bekerman (2005) maintains that peace-building focuses on cultivating harmonious relationships based on mutual respect and social justice, and therefore suggests that long-term peace education should focus on building mutuality among all citizens and teaching them the competencies, attitudes, and values needed to build and maintain peace in society. Some researchers and academicians lead by Opotow, Gerson, and Woodside (2010) have defined peace education as a process of “moral inclusion”. From their point of view, moral inclusion is a fundamental and strategic principle of peace education because it stands for the willingness to extend fairness to others, allocate resources to them, and make sacrifices for the well-being of others.

In an early declaration on a culture of peace, UNESCO called for an approach to education that is “directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, promoting understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations […] or religious groups,” and furthering “the activities of United Nations for the maintenance of peace” (UNESCO, 1945). The declaration further defined peace education as a humanizing process of teaching and learning, which facilitates human development by counteracting the dehumanization of poverty, prejudice, discrimination, rape, violence, and war. Harris (1988) adds to this “humanizing” approach by bringing in the concept of “empowerment”. He maintains that peace education is the process of empowerment. The students and community members are engaged to resolve their own problems and conflicts. This kind of empowerment is expected to enable underprivileged groups to learn, feel, and use their power and influence. He identifies the following stages for empowerment: (1) overcoming feelings of powerlessness, (2) confronting deep-seated fears of violence, (3) increasing awareness of public affairs, (4) leadership training, and (5) taking action. Finally, for Salomon (2002), the primary concern of peace education is the reconciliation of society, protection of human rights, and development of peace skills.

Peace Education and Pedagogy at the School

Baldo and Fumiss (1998) argue that peace education is most effective when the skills of peace and conflict resolution are learned actively and are modeled by the school environment in which pupils are taught. Of course, teachers (and school administrators) are the crucial actors for taking the responsibility of achieving these values. Teachers must be able to foster positive social interactions among children, and establish and maintain positive collaborative relationships with families and the larger community to support students’ learning and well-being (ACEI, 1997). That is why teachers should be prepared with universal values, such as freedom, justice, human rights, gender equality, tolerance, and respect for the right to live. They should also develop an understanding of peace and a desire for an internalized peaceful culture (Deveci, Yilmaz, Kardag, 2008).

In order to achieve the objectives of peace education, a school system has to be prepared for drastic changes including setting new educational objectives, preparing new curricula, (re)writing school textbooks, developing instructional material, and training teachers to create a school climate that is conducive to peace education (Bar-Tal, and Rosen, 2009). Researchers further argue that teacher education programs need to provide opportunities for collaborative and interactive learning so that teachers can make the peace values part of their own personality. Similarly, Brock-Utne, (1989) argue that the peace educator who works with students to develop a more positive and detailed concept of peace, plays a pivotal role in peace pedagogy. Bretherton, Weston, & Zbar, (2010), while developing their “Peace Education Kit”, focus on the use of child-centered, innovative, and participative pedagogies. They emphasize combining pedagogy with curriculum content and creating a teacher resource that is easy to use and written in plain language. They argue in favor of working in line with the existing systems rather than attempting to bring about change by working against the prevailing systems.

Deutsch (1993) argues that families and schools are the two most important institutions that influence children’s concepts of hate and love. He argues that a cooperative learning environment, conflict management initiatives, the constructive use of controversy, and establishment of resolution dispute centers in schools will enhance a constructive relationship which will ultimately help prepare children to live in a peaceful world. Salomon (2002) suggests providing maximum opportunities of speaking and expressing their views to children which may in turn boost their moral courage and be part of their personality for their later life. Weigert (1999) argues that the pedagogy of experiential learning can be instrumental for enhancing the knowledge about peace and violence, developing ideas, motivations and skills for making this world a better place to live. Hettler, Linda and Johnston, (2009) illustrate a more comprehensive and direct link between peace education and experiential learning. They argue that experiential learning can help in reorienting the school culture towards peace, provide the youth an opportunity to influence and educate the public, and practice conflict resolution and violence prevention programs. In their view, participants of such an experiential program enjoy the opportunities of reflecting on their own position in connection with the earth, building peaceful relationships with others, and taking on responsibilities for the wellbeing of communities.

It seems that one has to consider the strategies to be followed carefully when we want to foster peace education in schools. It is the responsibility of every teacher to introduce experience-based learning, group work, and discussion methods in classroom lessons. Teachers should not dominate the teaching-learning situation, but rather promote an open climate for discussion in which pupils feel free to participate. Pupils should learn to take up independent viewpoints and to make a contribution towards solving problems and resolving conflict situations. Teachers thus take the role of facilitator of learning, rather than the transmitter of knowledge.

Elaborating on the importance of schools for peace education, in the views of Harris, & Morrison (2003), the pedagogy of peace education should be “a philosophy and a process which caters to the skills of listening, reflection, problem-solving, cooperation and conflict resolution. The process should aim at empowering people with the skills, attitudes, and knowledge that are instrumental in the creation of a safe and sustained world. More specifically, Bar-Tal (2002) argues that peace education stands to achieve the objectives which are distinct from traditional educational objectives and therefore require a different pedagogy. He delineates the following implications for peace education pedagogy: (1) peace education is an orientation, more a philosophy than a subject matter; (2) peace education has to be open-minded to avoid becoming doctrinaire; has to embrace contrasting perspectives and alternate ways of seeing rather than reinforcing dogma; (3) peace education has to be relevant; it has to deal with the real problems lived by real people; (4) peace education requires experiential, active learning that increases internalization and reflection more than traditional didactic approaches can achieve; (5) peace education is teacher-dependent; without a teacher who understands and can model peace education, the enterprise will not succeed.

The pivotal role played by the cultural and contextual realities and differences in peace education has been frequently highlighted in the contemporary research literature. Windmueller, Wayne and Botes (2009) report on a comparative case analysis in Tajikistan and demonstrate that the competences and pedagogical approaches for peace education are influenced by local culture and context. Likewise, Abu-Nimer, (2000) studied the perceptions of the educators, their role, and the obstacles they face as the outcome of the Oslo settlement in an Israeli context. He found that in both Arab and Jewish communities, the sets of needs are very much different and contextual.

Hence, this study intended to explore the perceptions and leadership practices of peace education by two secondary school head teachers in the particular multi dialectical and multi cultural context of Gilgit Baltistan Pakistan. The participant head teachers were from two different districts with different socio cultural backgrounds thus providing useful insights into the influence of cultural and contextual influences on peace education.

Methodology

Research Design

In order to obtain in-depth and descriptive data about the perception and practices of the head teachers about peace education within the natural setting of the school, the study demanded a research approach which is scientifically rigorous but still sensitive to the complex life-world (Sergivoni, 2000) of human beings. Therefore, a qualitative method of gathering descriptive data from the natural context and meaning making through participant perspectives (Bogdan and Biklen, 1998; Yates, 2004) was adopted by this study. This qualitative approach, through intensive semi-structured interviews and observations, created an opportunity to cultivate a long-term interaction with the research participants and their respective school contexts, and ultimately allowed us to acquire rich data about peace education.

Within the qualitative research paradigm, the comparative case study method was adopted, in which “[…] two or more case studies are done and then compared and contrasted” (Bogdan and Biklen, 1998, p.62). This research study is comprised of two case studies, corresponding to the interviews with two head teachers from two different schools. After analyzing the individual cases, this study presents a comparative view of both in order to reach more investigative and thorough conclusions.

Research Context and Participants

This study was conducted in two girls’ secondary schools, which provide education to the children in two different districts of Gilgit Baltistan Pakistan. Keeping in view the cultural and linguistic diversity of the region, one school from each district was selected and the head teacher was taken as the primary research participant. The purpose of selecting participants from two different districts was to explore the possible similarities and differences in their perceptions about peace education in their particular settings. Selection of participants was based on their willingness, experience, and commitment.

In order to gain rich and in-depth data, three teachers from each school who had been working at the same school for at least three years were selected as secondary participants. While selecting the secondary research participants, I also took qualification and experiences into consideration. I wanted the participants to have experience and be professionally developed because of my assumption that experience and academic qualification can affect teachers’ perceptions and beliefs about their roles.

The purpose of selecting the schools from two culturally diverse districts was to obtain rich and in-depth data about the perception and practices of peace education by the head teachers in their respective regions.

Data Generation

This study employed semi-structured interviews as the main tool of data collection. In order to ensure that the interviews comprehensively collected the perspectives of the principal participants, this study employed three rounds of specifically designed sets of semi-structured interviews. Each interview lasted around one to one and half hours. Similarly, a two round semi-structured interview was conducted with each of the six secondary participants of this study. The interview language was Urdu and each interview was audio taped and personally transcribed by the researcher and later translated into English.

Research Methodology

The process of organizing, general sense making, coding, drawing themes, and, finally, interpreting and making meaning out of the collected data (Cresswell, 2003) was followed in this research. The details about the nature, purpose, time and methods involved in the study were provided to the participants before the data collection and participation was entirely voluntary. In addition, the participants enjoyed the right to see the interview transcripts for any clarification or adjustments to the views they expressed in the interview. For confidentiality, pseudonyms for each research participant, and their respective school related data, have been used.

Analysis and Findings

The Concept of Peace Education

In the urban district, the concept of peace education was attributed by the participants to the inculcation and development of positive thinking and positive attitudes among the students in order to attain the ultimate goal of a better, more peaceful society for the future. While defining peace education, the head teacher maintained that “Positive behavior for each other by the teachers and students help the school move forward. With a negative behavior for each other by children and teachers, a school can never succeed”.

In addition, teacher B highlighted the deeply rooted connection between a child’s holistic development and the future society. She argued that the holistic development of a child helps to acquire a peaceful personality which ultimately leads to the cultivation of a positive and peaceful society for the future generations. To use her words:

As you know, children have to play different important roles tomorrow in the society. Therefore, if children are taught from the very beginning about peace education it will have a positive impact on their future behavior and the role they play in bringing about positive changes in the society.

In the rural district, a high premium was placed on relationship mechanisms. Healthy relationships, a friendly environment, the absence of fear, and feelings of safety were marked as the prominent features of peace education in the school. Defining the concept, the head teacher maintained:

[peace education] means we should have good attitude and behavior for each other. My behavior with my teachers and students should be positive and work friendly. I think this can be peace education. In other words, we can say that peace education means providing an environment to the students in which they feel safe and secure to learn.

Teacher C highlighted the importance of nourishing teacher-to-teacher and teacher-to-student relationships that are constructive and friendly. She explained that “Peace education means living in peace, improving our relationships, and sharing our learning with each other”.

School and Classroom Environment

In the urban district, the overall school and classroom environment emerged as a prominent influencing feature for initiating and strengthening peace education. The head teacher explained that:

The internal environment of the school is very important. It should be one of the main responsibilities of the teachers to cultivate a friendly environment in the school. In this regard they can demonstrate little things like first greeting the children with a good mood and encouraging them to do so with each other.

Similarly, teacher C related peace education with the absence of fear in the school environment. She maintained, “For me it is a peaceful environment where there is no fear for the children to come and learn”.

However, in the rural district, friendly relationships, a fearless environment, and democratic traditions were considered to be the prominent features of a school environment that is helpful for peace education. The head teacher in this regard maintained that:

We should have a friendly environment in our school and classes. We do things on democratic principles and make a friendly atmosphere in the overall school. I feel, first of all, our relationships are very important, and secondly, it is essential that there is no fear for the children to come to the school.

Practical Strategies

In the urban district, the head teacher and teachers elaborated on various strategies for initiating, strengthening, and sustaining peace education in a school environment. The head teacher quoted an example of a successful group encounter which helped her in improving teacher-to-teacher relationships:

There were two groups of teachers who were reluctant to sit and interact with each other due to some socio-political reasons. To improve this situation I made one staff room for all the teachers to bring both the groups at one place so that they will start talking and interacting with each other. I was very successful in this regard as these teachers started talking and interacting with each other.

Encouraging self-reflection was pointed out as another important tool for peace education in the school. In this regard, teacher A explained:

Whenever I get a chance, I always try to encourage my students to think. I try to make them understand that we all are same and equal and there are no differences among us, so we need to create an environment of peace and friendship for ourselves.

In the rural district, the head teacher emphasized the role of the community for peace education in the school. The head teacher made it clear that:

Whenever we face problems or issues harming the peace of our school, we sit together and try to find out a solution. Also we call the community elders and the members of the school management committee and seek their support to resolve the issue.

Teacher A highlighted some more strategies she employs in her classroom for peace education:

I always keep a close eye on which students do not like each other. Once I find out some students I give them pair work and encourage them to work together and help each other. This helps in creating positive relationships among the students.

Influence of Societal Culture

In the Urban district, the head teachers and teachers seem struggling to balance their relationships with the societal culture. The head teacher maintained,

We need to keep the school environment clean from political and other influences from the external environment which are harmful for our unity and friendly environment. Because, our job is teaching and learning and nurturing the students, so political and other influences should not come into the school.

Teacher B turned the table around by demonstrating enthusiasm and courage for influencing the societal culture through peace education rather than only being influenced. To use her words,

You know as teachers we play the role of change agents and we can bring about positive change in the society through our students. We can help in bringing peace in the society by teaching peace education to our students. Children always tell their parents what they learn in the school, so in this way the message of peace can reach out to the society through children.

Whereas, in the rural district, the deep rootled influence of the societal culture on the discourses, processes, and activities within the school milieu emerged as a strong factor. In this regard the head teacher argued,

In our context, the community plays an important role in the school life. The problems, politics and other influences come into the school from the community. Therefore the community is in a better position to resolve such issues of the school which permeate in from the societal culture.

Comparative Analysis

Perhaps, the strategies for peace education identified by the urban school participants reveal more depth and complexity as compared to the rural school. It reflects that the culture and context of the urban school is more prone to socio-cultural and political unrests therefore the participants are more sensitive and cautious about formally initiating peace education in their school and its implications. In this regard teacher B maintained,

Everyone wants peace and friendly environment. But initiating peace education and talking about peace can create troubles. People can give it a different meaning and you can face problems. I feel it is because of political influences in the school which makes peace education a challenging task

Similar thoughts were shared by teacher A in the following lines,

Our societal culture is full of turbulences based on economic, socio cultural, political and religious grounds. This culture definitely exerts a huge influence in the school through teachers and students. This also creates a problem for peace education and cultivation of a peaceful and friendly environment in the school.

Indeed, the overall data reflect that these strategies for peace education are employed whenever the teachers and head teachers feel a need. These strategies are employed in an unorganized way and in both the schools there is an absence of formal support structures for peace education. Teacher B of urban school mentioned about the need of teacher professional development for initiating and sustaining peace education in the school. She maintained,

I think teachers need training. If they understand what is peace education and how to make it part of their daily lesson then they will be in a better position to implement their learning in the real classroom set up. So teacher training is very important at the first stage.

She suggested that teachers should be given awareness through training programs about how to integrate concept of peace education in their existing curriculum and daily teaching lessons.

As mentioned in the analysis portion, both the rural and the urban district school participants positioned a strong emphasis on the prevalence of a cooperative and enabling school environment for peace education. They considered friendly relationships, fearless environment, and democratic traditions as some of the prominent features of a school environment which can help initiate and strengthen peace education. The views of the participants are in line with the declarations of The association for childhood education international (ACEI,1997) who in their position paper emphasized on teacher candidates to be able to foster positive social interactions among children, and establish and maintain positive collaborative relationships with families and the large community to support students’ learning and wellbeing.

Comparative view of the themes and the participants

Implications

This small scale study enfolds quite a few contextually significant implications for the donor community and nongovernmental organizations working in Gilgit Baltistan in particular, and those working worldwide more generally. There are quite a few non- government organizations contributing to the development of this remote mountainous region in the areas like agriculture, housing, business, education, and health. However, none of them has specifically paid attention to the area of peace education and peacemaking in this socio-culturally and politically diversified region. Particularly, for the younger generations at the school level, an organized and planned effort of peace education by any organization could not be found visible. Though the teachers seems to understand the concept of peace education and explained some ways that you are exercising in the school yet they were unable to show some evidence of their practical work in a planned and organized manner. Therefore, such organization may consider it as an opportunity and need for a peace education intervention.

In the light of the study, it is suggested that the government education department Gilgit Baltistan may revisit its educational strategy to incorporate and integrate a planned and organized component of peace education at the school level. The head teacher and teachers were seemed to be unsatisfied with the societal culture and try their level best to avoid the communal culture and create their own environment in the school. Without taking the parent community in loop, the efforts of peace education may not give the desired results. Therefore it is suggested that particularly, the integration of peace education and parental involvement in the comparatively urban school may give fruitful results. Therefore, the local teacher education institution of the region may include the parental involvement in peace education in their training programs for the teachers of the urban context. However, such a program will be beneficial and easy to install if it is integrated as part of the existing educational practices rather than aiming for drastic changes. Literature on peace education in socio-cultural and politically diversified regions has also suggested in favor of working in line with the existing systems rather than attempting to bring about change by working against the prevailing systems (Bretherton, Weston, & Zbar, 2010).

The initiation of planned and organized peace education at the school level involves a range of preparations such as setting up objectives, developing a contextual peace educational content package, training teachers and providing awareness to the parent community. Therefore, the scale of this study is not large enough to provide rich insights for such a comprehensive peace education planning for the overall region of Gilgit Baltistan. For that reason, a major study, widened over all the seven districts of the region, may be conducted to gain more in-depth insights into the development of a comprehensive peace education plan for Gilgit Baltistan.

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About the Author

The author is working as faculty member at the Professional development center North (PDCN) which is a component of the Aga Khan University leading the teacher education and research initiatives in the remote region of Gilgit Baltistan Pakistan. She has remained part of many educational research projects including the research presented here.

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